So, as we all know by now, Torsten Frings is going to be missing for the next 4-6 weeks, missing what looks like a thankfully soft portion of the MLS schedule, as well as the 2 big CCL semi-final games, to be replaced by...Ty Harden? Miguel Aceval? Terry Dunfield? Those are the frankly depressing scenarios we've got to throw around when it comes to the question of who'll fill the big hole left in the Toronto FC defence by the injury news.
When it comes to intangibles, leadership and experience and all that, well you can throw out any old cliche really, Richard Eckersley certainly did in his post training interview yesterday. Everyone's got to step up to the plate, they've all got a job to do and they're all going to be leaders were some of the classics he threw out there, I'm a little disappointed he didn't actually say we've got to give 110%.
Ever since Frings arrived, those with and without locker room access and insight have been confidently talking about the effect that his presence and experience would have on the dressing room and the professionalism of the players. Now's the chance for them all to show the resilience and mental strength that hasn't ever been a big part of TFC's game in season's past. If away wins in big games against FC Dallas, and LA Galaxy show a fortitude absent back in 2009 in New York, hopefully they can also now avoid the injury related slumps that hurt previous incarnations of the club.
Though the second half against Seattle isn't promising in that respect, that would be an incredibly harsh judgement to make. How they react against a very beatable San Jose team with a week to prepare will give us much more important information. All that intangible stuff is impossible to know ahead of time, the easier task is to take a look at the alternatives in formation and personnel available to Aron Winter, and though they're alarmingly limited, both in number and in the confidence they inspire, I'll do just that after the jump.
Aron Winter's post training interview certainly suggested he has a plan, not that he was going to share it with whichever cheeky media type tried to find out, and that while they're always looking for new players, the solution was going to have to come from within the squad. So let's look at the options here, starting with someone simply slipping into his spot in the 3 CB backline TFC have been using so far, and starting with those we can rule out for the next 2 weeks or so and the now even tougher CCL games.
Geovanny Caicedo got sent back home, Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams are still out injured, and Doneil Henry's off standing on guard for the under 23 team. Richard Eckersley has moved over to Centre Back before, but with Jeremy Hall still injured and Matt Stinson also off making his heart glow, there's no Right Back alternative so he'll have to stay there. Logan Emory can play in MLS games, but he's cap tied when it comes to the CCL, so he can take up a depth/squad rotation spot at best, but let's forget about him for now as well. Julian de Guzman, we're going to need him in midfield, and if it can be the version of him from the end of 2011, that'd be nice. Terry Dunfield did play roughly a half in preseason in that spot, so I guess he's a possibility, but I really can't see that being tried unless under the most extreme necessity, and we're not quite there yet.
So, we're down to Ty Harden, Aaron Maund and Miguel Aceval. 3 positions, 3 men, 0 subs, so much for that ballyhooed depth we thought we had now in defence. But who'd be where? The only certainty I'd say is that Aaron Maund shouldn't get the crucial central position, that's way too much to be asking of a rookie. So that leaves Harden and Aceval, and despite the fact that Harden did the job admirably against Pumas last year when Frings was suspended (behind Andy Iro no less!) I'd say Aceval is probably best suited to the position. I'm not sure if he's ever played that role before, but he's got age and a lot of experience of high level football in Chile on his side, and also should be able to handle expectations when it comes to distributing the ball and building attacks from the back.
The other option of course is to revert to the flat back 4, with Harden and Aceval between Richard Eckersley and Ashtone Morgan. If that happens, I'd expect to see two midfielders, probably de Guzman and Dunfield sitting right in front of them, with the front 4 more or less left to fend for themselves.
Whatever formation is chosen against Santos Laguna, I really really hope that the more aggressive high line is temporarily abandoned. The counter attacking play Santos displayed against Seattle is something we really don't need to see given so much space to work with against a slow defence deprived of Frings' expertise in reading the game. I wouldn't say just park the bus, especially at home, but the most important thing is to keep it tight, and play a cagey defensive game, get numbers forward when you can, but don't allow too much space for them to run into.
Losing Frings is absolutely bad news and it certainly doesn't help, but even with him, TFC already looked badly over matched. It was never the names on the teamsheets that were going to win this game, but a combination of the right formation and tactics, effort and luck. Those elements are all the more important now, a tough task has become an incredibly difficult one, but the CCL adventure is far from over.
The good news is that reinforcements will soon be here, Adrian Cann should be fully fit very soon, and I somehow doubt Doneil Henry and Matt Stinson's Olympic adventure will be too long. For the MLS games through the end of April, they'll help, then before we know it Frings will be back again. Al teams have to deal with injuries, some players and teams learn from the experience, let's hope TFC can finally become one of those teams.